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  • The Closing of the American Mind; and worse.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on September 26th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Some years ago, when it came out, I read Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. It struck me as a profound commentary on the weakening of college education and about changes in college students that I did not like and which had occurred since I was one myself.

    It seems to be getting worse now, according to this essay in Psychology Today.

    Dan Jones, past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, seems to agree with this assessment. In an interview for the Chronicle of Higher Education article, he said: “[Students] haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”

    In my next essay in this series I’ll examine the research evidence suggesting that so-called “helicopter parenting” really is at the core of the problem. But I don’t blame parents, or certainly not just parents. Parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in the society—victims of the continuous exhortations from “experts” about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a “helicopter society.”

    I think this is exceedingly dangerous and is behind the war on college age men. Some this can be seen in the hysteria of “Rape Culture” and various hoaxes perpetrated by magazines and by the Obama Administration’s Department of Education and its “Dear Colleague” letters.

    In order to assist recipients, which include school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter “schools” or “recipients”) in meeting these obligations, this letter1 explains that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence.2 Sexual violence, as that term is used in this letter, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol. An individual also may be unable to give consent due to an intellectual or other disability. A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape,

    Those acts include many that an earlier generation would consider harmless and part of the normal male-female relationship.

    From one reader review of Bloom’s book written years after its publication:

    Bloom begins with the problem of liberal education at the end of the 20th century – in a world where students are taught from childhood that “values” are relative and that tolerance is the first virtue, too many students arrive at college without knowing what it means to really believe in anything. They think they are open-minded but their minds are closed to the one thing that really matters: the possibility of absolute truth, of absolute right and wrong. In explaining where we are and how we got here, Bloom presents a devastating critique of modern American education and its students, an intellectual history of the United States and its unique foundation in Enlightenment philosophy, and an assesment of the project of liberal education.

    We are well past that stage of the deterioration of American culture.

    a summary of themes that emerged in the series of meetings, which included the following bullets:

    • Less resilient and needy students have shaped the landscape for faculty in that they are expected to do more handholding, lower their academic standards, and not challenge students too much.

    • There is a sense of helplessness among the faculty. Many faculty members expressed their frustration with the current situation. There were few ideas about what we could do as an institution to address the issue.

    • Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable. External measures of success are more important than learning and autonomous development.

    • Faculty, particularly young faculty members, feel pressured to accede to student wishes lest they get low teacher ratings from their students. Students email about trivial things and expect prompt replies.

    There are others, even less understandable when the students should be acting as adults.

    From my post on The Rape Culture:

    In the early 1980s, a fear of abuse of children in day care centers began. The entire matter began in Kern County, California.

    In 1982, Alvin and Debbie McCuan’s two daughters, coached by their step-grandmother Mary Ann Barbour, who had custody of them, alleged they had been abused by their parents, and accused them of being part of a sex ring that included Scott and Brenda Kniffen. The Kniffens’ two sons also claimed to have been abused. No physical evidence was ever found. The McCuans and Kniffens were convicted in 1984 and given a combined sentence of over 1000 years in prison.

    This persisted for years and caused terrible abuse of school teachers and parents. The next hysteria arrived in the 1990s.

    The next moral panic, in my opinion, was the the “Recovered Memories” panic of the 1990s. I became aware of this in 1994 while attending Dartmouth Medical School in a health policy program. I read a book by a local man whose daughter, while undergoing testament for bulimia, became convinced that she had been molested by her father as a child.

    While not a therapeutic technique in and of itself, RMT (Recovered Memory Therapy) generally is applied to such methods as hypnosis, age regression, drug-assisted interviewing (using substances such as sodium amytal), and guided visualization. While practiced by some individual therapists, these techniques were never recognized by the psychiatric or psychological community, and are generally not practiced in mainstream treatment modalities.

    We seem to be in a Rape Culture Panic at present but it is even worse when we see the absolute paralysis of adolescents.

    A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services to join other faculty and administrators, at the university I’m associated with, for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

    This is a serious problem for society, even if there were not an impending crisis with hostile Muslim cultures. The paralysis has been addressed by blogger Richard Fernandez.

    On the American side of the Atlantic, Rukmini Callimachi has a long piece in the New York Times describing how a “lonely” American girl was gradually converted to Islam by an ISIS interlocutor on the Internet. “Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.”

    The only Muslims she knew were those she had met online, and he encouraged her to keep it that way, arguing that Muslims are persecuted in the United States. She could be labeled a terrorist, he warned, and for now it was best for her to keep her conversion secret, even from her family.

    So on his guidance, Alex began leading a double life. She kept teaching at her church, but her truck’s radio was no longer tuned to the Christian hits on K-LOVE. Instead, she hummed along with the ISIS anthems blasting out of her turquoise iPhone, and began daydreaming about what life with the militants might be like.

    “I felt like I was betraying God and Christianity,” said Alex, who spoke on the condition that she be identified only by a pseudonym she uses online. “But I also felt excited because I had made a lot of new friends.”

    The NYT article calls the process enticing the lonely. The other phrase for it is filling the emptied. ”She felt as if she finally had something to do,” Callimachi wrote.

    This is world shattering stuff as this is the next generation that we expect to carry on and continue our civilization. Well they ?

    “I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”

    I am not optimistic.

     

    23 Responses to “The Closing of the American Mind; and worse.”

    1. Kirk Parker Says:

      Department of Education and its “Dear Colleague” letters.

      I just now realized how f’ingly dishonest the salutation itself is. No, apparatchiks working for the DoE are NOT “colleagues” of actual university professors. Gag me.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Re the apparent loss of resilience, I’m reminded of something written by Field Marshal Lord Wavell:

      “Now the mind of the general in war is buried, not merely for 48 hours but for days and weeks, in the mud and sand of unreliable information and uncertain factors, and may at any time receive, from an unsuspected move of the enemy, an unforseen accident, or a treaherous turn in the weather, a bump equivalent to a drop of at least a hundred feet on to something hard. Delicate mechanism is of little use in war; and this applies to the mind of the commander as well as his body; to the spirit of an army as well as to the weapons and instruments with which it is equipped.”

      Command in combat is surely an extreme case of the need for resilience, but it is an essential for many other careers, in addition to being of great benefit in daily life.

      See also Tom Peters on Resilience and Black Swans, in which he discusses the attributes of resilient people and resilient organizations.

    3. Mike Fuller Says:

      “Bloom begins with the problem of liberal education at the end of the 20th century – in a world where students are taught from childhood that “values” are relative and that tolerance is the first virtue, too many students arrive at college without knowing what it means to really believe in anything. They think they are open-minded but their minds are closed to the one thing that really matters: the possibility of absolute truth, of absolute right and wrong

      This is the heart of the matter and it’s not confined to higher education.

    4. Grurray Says:

      Unreal. In the Chicago neighborhood where I lived before I was married, I regularly fought off rats the size of small livestock just to get to my car in the morning. I was down the alley from an Asian-ish restaurant whose dumpster was apparently a major feeding ground. I seriously approached Carl Spackler type zealousness in my eradication efforts. I can’t imagine these cry babies in that alley.

      Although just when we lose our optimism kids like these come along to restore some hope. I tell every young person I now encounter to join the military before or even instead of school. Sometimes I have to do it in a hushed voice to avoid angering their parents, most of whom still believe higher education leads somewhere besides emasculating impoverishment of the soul.

    5. No Name Says:

      I tell every young person I now encounter to join the military before or even instead of school.

      Gee, thanks! These whiners are indeed entering the military, and they are driving us nuts! What do you think was behind the Air Force’s missileer cheating scandal a short while back? Precious snowflakes, who had always made “A’s,” whose tests were correctable to 100, who were always told that they were all superlative. They enter the Air Force and find themselves in a job where the tests are real and not correctable, where there are indeed high standards that are not waivable, and it’s not a front-line job with lots of glory and a trophy for everybody. Oh, the humanity!

    6. Mike Doughty Says:

      “I am not optimistic”.

      Neither am I. There seems little reason for optimism, as it will take a very long time to turn this around, if it’s even possible. Many parents of know this “special snowflake” crap is just that, but they are afraid. Justifiably so, when parents are held up to ridicule or threatened with prosecution for letting their children play outside alone (the horror!).

    7. veryretired Says:

      I used to coach my kids’ teams in a couple of sports over the years, and part of my speech to the teams at the beginning of the season included a warning that I was not going to tell them that everything they did was just wonderful, but was going to point out mistakes, and offer corrections when necessary.

      It is not a reflection on the youngsters, but their parents and educators, when they seem so fragile. Children are naturally inquisitive and desirous of learning how to do things, and will always respond to a person whom they can tell is trying to help them get better at the subject in question.

      I warned my own kids that I was not a modern, sensitive person, and they would never meet any teacher or coach who was more critical or demanded more from them than I would. The whole point of that attitude was to harden them against criticism, and not doing everything perfectly all the time was recognized as a part of every person’s normal daily life.

      I noticed over the years that I was often out of step with many other parents. They seemed unable to comprehend the idea that if I criticized my kid for lack of effort, I was not somehow condemning him or her to a life of therapy, but showing them that it was honest effort that mattered, not being some kind of superstar in everything they did.

      They’re all adults now, and generally independent and hard working. I guess the snowflake part was melted off before they ever got out into the real world, and I take a lot of pride in having done that part right, for all the other mistakes and missteps I made over the years.

      The most difficult part of raising kids is being tough enough to withstand all the tears and hurt feelings, and to demand that they mature at each age level so that when they finally get to adulthood, they are, in fact, adults, and not trapped in some never-ending adolescence in which every set back is the end of the world.

    8. Grurray Says:

      No Name, I currently refrain from recommending the Air Force Academy due to the Stalinist tactics of their secret spying program. Actually, I don’t know if I can recommend any service academy if they’ve been poisoned by the same anti-American thinking as universities.

      Just enlist, work your way through the ranks, and shoot for the Air University’s programs like CCAF or AFIT at Wright-Patterson.

    9. Mike K Says:

      “I don’t know if I can recommend any service academy ”

      The kids I see and am very happy to talk to are enlisting. Very few are applying to academies as I’m sure that is another route. I see very fit, very smart young guys who are joining the Navy and not applying for commissions even though they are college graduates because they want to try for SEAL training.

      I see a fair number of kids who want to enlist and plan eventually go to college using GI Bill.

      This being Los Angeles, about 50% are Hispanic but about half the rest are Asian, almost all Chinese or Korean. Some of these Chinese kids have significant language issues but I am told the military will send them to language school.

      Quite a few of the females are nurses or other fields applying for direct commissions.

    10. Mike K Says:

      More on this during the week.

      The Cocked Fist Culture has turned into an ouroboros, except the snake is well past swallowing its own tail. It’s eaten its way clean up to mid-sternum. Recent books across the political spectrum have extensively documented this turn, notably Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson’s End of Discussion on the right and Kirsten Powers’s The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech on the center-left. Though the outrage industrial complex shows no sign of shrinking, some thought a high-water mark had been reached earlier this year when Jonathan Chait, a New York writer and reliable liberal, broke ranks, accusing his own team of ideological repression through all the thought-and-speech policing. He charged that the hijacked left had adopted the modus operandi of old-line smash-mouth Marxists, who’ve always been contemptuous of mainstream liberalism’s tendency to enshrine dissent. The present left merely swaps Marxist preoccupation with economics for race-and-gender-identity fetishization.

      Read the rest. Richard Fernandez, linked above, discusses what has replaced Marxist economics.

    11. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      >>Richard Fernandez, linked above, discusses what has replaced Marxist economics.

      The leftists I encounter still seem steeped in Marxism, complete with an attached list of reasons why it has not yet worked, including: the CIA always sabotages it, capitalists in other countries sabotage it and the evergreen it hasn’t really ever been tried.

    12. Mike K Says:

      Oh, I agree about leftists but there is a more dangerous development going on that Fernandez describes.

      He describes it as Gramsci cultural destruction that leaves an empty space being filled by militant Islam. A friend of mine in Britain, a famous surgeon and anatomist, has told me how worrying it is to see so many female medical students becoming Muslim even thought they have no ethnic connection.

      They are seeking something to replace what used to be religion.

    13. ErisGuy Says:

      Citing Psychology Today as if it were a reputable magazine of integrity with scientific content and an article within it which quotes a past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors seems the surest way to frivolity.

    14. Mike Doughty Says:

      Veryretired….I couldn’t agree more. I told my kids from the time they were small that I was their father, not their friend, and that it was my job to prepare them for life in the real world as adults. We lived in an affluent area between Baltimore and Washington, where they never experienced or even saw poverty or really any significant hardships. Every few months we’d go for a drive through Baltimore City and I’d tell them that that was real life and explain how lucky they were, compared to most people. I too always felt that I was out-of-step with other parents around me. They both have turned out well and, as you say, I take some pride in that, despite my many other missteps. They both have thanked me for not coddling them.

    15. Mike K Says:

      ” seems the surest way to frivolity.”

      And this discredits their worries ? They are the people who have been pushing the new culture description and now they are worried about the effect.

      That doesn’t concern you ?

      Reinforcing the claim that this is a nationwide problem, the Chronicle of Higher Education, three weeks ago (Aug. 31, 2015), carried an article by Robin Wilson entitled “An Epidemic of Anguish: Overwhelmed by Demand for Mental-Health Care, Colleges Face Conflicts in Choosing How to Respond.” Colleges and universities have traditionally been centers for higher academic education, where the expectation is that the students are adults, capable of taking care of their own everyday life problems. Increasingly, students and their parents are asking the personnel at such institutions to be substitute parents. There is also the ever-present threat and reality of lawsuits. When a suicide occurs, or a serious mental breakdown occurs, the institution is often held responsible.

      That doesn’t concern you ?

      It does me even if the people who are worried had a lot to do with the problem.

    16. raven Says:

      A person foundering in a sea of confusion, purposeless and anxiety ridden has the perfect pre-conditioning for being recruited into any sort of cult. Anything that will give them a Reason for Being. This feeling of purpose and belonging is the most precious thing they have ever held, and they will do anything to preserve it.

      “No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.” – Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775

    17. Veryretired Says:

      MD— For several Christmases when our kids were in grade school or high school, my wife and I asked our parish church office for the name of a family that they knew were having a hard time of it. My wife would then either call herself, or ask the church secretary to check with the family and ask what they needed, especially any children.

      Over the years, we bought presents of clothing or toys, gave furniture or gift certificates for food stores or target, and always included some kids books as well.

      We made it very clear to our kids that they should each pick out a present that they would like themselves, and that the presents we gave as a family would mean something less for each of us under our own tree.

      This was not done out of some vague feeling of charity, but to demonstrate to our children a very significant point. We had a decent life. Plenty of food on the table, a nice big house with a bedroom for everybody, catholic schools, and lots of sports and dance classes for all. My wife and I always had good jobs, and we were able to provide for our family very well, if not lavishly.

      The message was very pointed, and we explained it every year so it wasn’t lost in the annual holiday frenzy—we are lucky, work hard, and have all we need and more. Some people aren’t, often through no fault of their own, and a lot of kids are caught in situations of real need, even for basics like food and warm clothes.

      As they grew older, I was gratified to see them pitching in for Toys For Tots, or the drives to buy winter clothes for kids, etc. My oldest was just talking about finding a family like we used to do for this coming holiday season because his boy will be 3 1/2, and it’s time for him to start learning that not every kid has all the nice things he has.

      Some family traditions are worth passing on.

    18. PenGun Says:

      I generally agree. I have just turned 69 and it is obvious that western culture is suffering. Still things like this:

      “They think they are open-minded but their minds are closed to the one thing that really matters: the possibility of absolute truth, of absolute right and wrong. In explaining where we are and how we got here”

      Are amusing. You understand, I hope, the tiny bit of the Universe that we use is perhaps just a few percent of what is. To have rather weak, in understanding, beings assert they have absolute truth is funny.

    19. Mike K Says:

      “To have rather weak, in understanding, beings assert they have absolute truth is funny.”

      Yes, especially if they are leftists who can’t even govern cities, like Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago.

    20. David Foster Says:

      Mike K…”A friend of mine in Britain, a famous surgeon and anatomist, has told me how worrying it is to see so many female medical students becoming Muslim even thought they have no ethnic connection…They are seeking something to replace what used to be religion.”

      There is a parallel with Koestler’s female protagonist, Hydie, in his 1950 novel The Age of Longing….the insurgent ideology here being Communism rather than Islam. Although Hydie does not actually convert to the Marxist faith, rather, she feels a strong sexual attraction…the strongest she has ever felt…for a man who embodies this faith. As he explains it to her:

      “I am not a tall and handsome man…So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…Of course many ugly things are happening in my country. Do you think I do not know about them?…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end.”

      I reviewed this thought-provoking and sadly-neglected book here:

      Sleeping with the enemy

    21. Mike K Says:

      “she feels a strong sexual attraction…the strongest she has ever felt…for a man who embodies this faith.”

      I think this is a lot of it and Fernandez has the theory that ISIS may be better at filling that void than the Marxists now are.

      George Orwell did not have high opinion:

      The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years’ time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white- collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting. This last type is surprisingly common in Socialist parties of every shade; it has perhaps been taken over en bloc from. the old Liberal Party. In addition to this there is the horrible–the really disquieting–prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

      He sounds like a Sanders campaign worker.

    22. PenGun Says:

      “Yes, especially if they are leftists who can’t even govern cities, like Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago.”

      My son just bought a rather expensive record. Good vinyl is not cheap these days. It had a scratch on it, reminded me of you.

    23. Roy Says:

      Penn Gunn, absolutely (close-mindedly)certain there exist no knowable absolutes.

      At the same time as I read (and have agreed with) your response to PG, Mike Kennedy, I wonder what you think of Mike Fuller’s summary analysis.